Planning your winter countryside escape in Kent
The green fields and rolling hills of the garden of England might be at their most traditionally beautiful in summer, but Kent is equally lovely in winter. Roaring log fires ward off the chill in its romantic castles; the National Trust’s excellent hot chocolate warms your insides at its myriad stately homes; and the fields glisten under a carpet of snow. And in a county so rich in history, heritage and beauty, there’s plenty to do in winter …
There are 4,000 miles of walking routes in Kent – and the countryside around Dover is some of the county’s loveliest. A section of the England Coast Path takes you all around the White Cliffs to Deal, Sandwich and the stunning seaside at Margate, Ramsgate and Broadstairs (and further if you wish!), while the Miners’ Way takes you through the pretty villages, woodlands and farms of the district’s former coalfields. The whole thing is 27 miles long, but you can just walk part of it!
It’s a little way inland, but Leeds Castle is absolutely magical at Christmas time. There are always special events on for Christmas; this year different areas of the castle tell classic festive stories through illustration, and there’s carol singing, a Christmas market and winter trail. The kids can also meet Father Christmas on selected dates.
Yes, another castle – but we have a lot of them in Kent, and this one’s arguably Dover’s biggest attraction. Dover castle itself is of great historical interest, having been built by Henry II, but it’s really famous for its secret wartime tunnels where the Government masterminded the Dunkirk evacuation. Over the first two weekends in December, the castle is putting on 1940s-themed festive activities, including a recreated officers’ mess, lindy hop dancers and a chance to bake Christmas treats using rations.
Folkestone Museum houses a collection of 16th and 17th-century fine art, fossils, rocks and ancient artefacts, as well as displays on the town’s maritime and military history and its heyday as a fashionable seaside resort frequented by King Edward VII. Until the end of January there’s also a treat for football fans: a temporary exhibition on the life and legacy of Walter Tull, who was born in Folkestone in 1888 and was one of the first mixed race footballers to play top-flight football in England.
Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway
One of the world’s smallest public railways, the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway is extremely popular. Its tiny trains take an hour to travel from the quaint seaside town of Hythe to the wild shores of Dungeness, whose RSPB bird reserve is a prime location for spotting bitterns, plovers, grebes and wheatears. Throughout November and December the railway will be running its Santa specials, where young passengers can see Santa arrive on his sleigh before visiting him in his grotto and receiving a gift.
In the tiny village of Alkham, in the middle of the Kent Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the Marquis of Alkham country restaurant with rooms is the perfect place to explore all that east Kent has to offer.